Monday, July 04, 2016

Adventure Ottawa 

Canada Day 2016

For the last decade or so Toronto has gotten on my nerves, especially in the summer when it seems to get hotter, louder, brighter and more annoying every year. Lately, I’ve been working from first to last light and the upcoming Canada Day holiday took me by surprise. Did I want to spend another weekend doing my best by pretending to be an extrovert and “getting out there” going to a concert (alone) or a movie (alone) or to an art show (alone) or some free-for-all multi-cultural self-congratulatory-hug-fest (alone) or did I want to do something I knew would be fun.

I reached out to my friend Glenn on Facebook and thankfully he was around and willing to host me in Ottawa. If I haven’t said this before, if you have a chance to go to Ottawa on Canada Day, take it. It will make your Grinch heart grow ten times with pride (unless you get caught in an onslaught of frat boy student parties doing their best to determine who has the largest penis but tightest butt hole). Now if you also get the chance to go to Canada Day in Ottawa and have a host like Glenn Gobuyan, you’re in for fine food, drink, activities, urban planning seminars and history lessons all rolled into one - this is the Gobu Experience. I immediately booked a train ticket and packed a bag.

The stars of urban transit are finally beginning to align in Ontario which allowed me to leave my bike locked at work, walk to Union Station, catch a train to Ottawa and once there use the same Presto payment card I use on TTC and Go trains in Toronto on the buses in Ottawa. About 40 minutes after debarking my train and one thrashing rolling halting bus ride later, I strolled up to Glenn’s place and let myself in.

Canada Day 2016
All Thursdays should end this way

Thursday began in a flurry of calls, e-mails, and sleepy rail rides but ended, as all Thursday nights should with mixed drinks and grilled meats. Friday morning began with fruit-filled crepes and some of the finest coffee you’ll find. If all I did was eat and drink all weekend it still would’ve been the vacation I needed but it was a lot more than that. We headed out from Ottawa’s Westboro neighbourhood via bike with the intention of taking in Parliament Hill, then going to meet friends for drinks and later head somewhere to take in probably the best fireworks show in the country. Unfortunately it all went a bit pear shaped. I won’t go into details but Glenn and I got separated and now I had both of his bikes. I locked up one and rode the other to find our Sandy Hill pal, Robert.

To get there meant a trip through nostalgia (I lived in Sandy Hill for about 8 years) and slicing through several parties of drunken Ottawa U students - all bro’s with backward baseball caps sounding pretty much like a world’s most terrible people parody. I overheard one surly teen complain, “There’s nothing to do in Ottawa!” Right. That free concert with Alex Cuba, Coeur de Pirate and Metric that finishes with a spectacular pyrotechnic display is pretty crap and unless the Teenage Ninja Turtles save you, you’ll probably die from hipster-induced ennui. It has been my experience that the only place where there is nothing to do is completely in your head - or a dry airport departure lounge.

Unfortunately, this side trip was a bit of a bust as no one was home in Sandy Hill (though I did see two old apartments I’d lived in) so I texted (thank you technology) some other friends, Carla and Brian who live across town that I was on my way to join them. It should be said, “across town” is not really that far and within 30 minutes of sensing my way there the way a robin migrates north, I had landed on their welcome doorstep. As soon as I got there Brian and I decided to go rescue Glenn’s other bike from a post downtown. Our walk and stroll was scored by our mutual efforts and affronts with bike infrastructure in our respective cities. It was impossibly apt that we were discussing urban bike planning while retrieving a friend’s bicycle. Our ride back was through the kind of downpour that pockmarks an Ontario summer. By journey’s end, we were drenched. Luckily Brian and I are about the same size so he was able to find both of us something dry to wear.

Brian and Carla’s house is the complete opposite of Glenn’s. It is as chaotic and dramatic as a Cirque du Soleil stage disassembly that is happening inside a tornado, which is to say wild, entertaining, embracing and a whole lot of fun. Enter into this home an army of teens led by their two kids and it was like I had landed into a dance competition of whirling Dervishes. Their kids and their cohort of friends kind of look like some kind of CBC production of “How Great are Canadian Kids?” Occasional sass aside, they are a bright effusive multi-ethnic/cultural mishmash that maybe only Ottawa can produce (I’m sure it happens everywhere, but I haven’t been everywhere). Watching them gamely try to destroy an indestructible piñata Carla had made at 10PM the night before was the entirety of Parliament Hill’s big Canada Day show condensed into a microcosm of one backyard and I don’t regret for a second the unexpected circumstances of being there. Glenn might regret it, as it was due to his brief emergency room visit that led to these events.

When Glenn joined us, we got all caught up on the day’s happenings and before long we were balancing a decision to head with everyone to Victoria Island to watch the fireworks. Glenn and I were up to it, that is until the rain started again in heavy dollops and pretty cool breeze. After a long day and without any rain gear our spirits dipped and the suggestion of just ending the day with a cup of tea seemed the right one.

Canada Day 2016
One of those "secret city" places - a rooftop deck and garden open to the public.

Saturday was a day of another great breakfast (farmers market purchase of Art Is In pastries) and a tour around town of all the new stuff going up and down - Ottawa, like Toronto is burying an LRT. We wound up grilling some fish in a manner I’m definitely going to try to replicate. Sunday was all about a long ride to the eastern edges of Gatineau to take the ferry back from Cumberland (Google Maps puts it at over 80 km). It seemed imminently doable until a strong headwind took the wind out of my sails and slowed me down. By the end, with a belly full of poutine, and maybe a touch too much sun, I was spent. I think it was the longest ride I’ve done this year. A quick shower, pack-up and drop-off at the rail station meant the trip ended with the same kind of spontaneous energy it began with. It was a grand mini-adventure made better by friends and throwing myself into the middle of a summer storm.

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